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City employees to kick in for health insurance

In an unprecedented move, at least for as long as present officials can remember, city employees with single health insurance plans will now be paying part of their premium. West Fargo City Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to start assessing single plan members 12.5 percent for each of their 24-pay periods starting Jan. 1, 2014 to help offset a 22.9 percent increase in health insurance rates for the upcoming year.

City officials had projected a ten percent increase in their 2014 budget but learned recently from Blue Cross/Blue Shield that the increase would be at least twice that.

Mayor Rich Mattern said he was taken aback by the news. “We talked in our budget meetings about ten percent. Now you say excuse me it’s 22 percent. I’m a little flustered by that.”

City Administrator Jim Brownlee explained that an estimate was asked for this summer before budget talks started but was told it was too early for Blue Cross to come up with a firm amount. At that time they said they thought it would be about 10 percent.

Right now single plan employees pay nothing and those with family plans pay 25 percent for a 250 deductible plan. The options for enrollment are: single, single with dependent and family.

With this increase, Brownlee said the cost to the city would go up about $184,000 in the new budget year. He and Human Resource Director Carmen Schroeder explored several options in advance of the meeting and recommended the board go with a plan that would increase the deductible to $500 as well as add another layer of classes – employee and spouse. This plan would decrease the expense to the city to $157,000.

Adding in the 12.5 percent, would diminish that amount to about $84,000. There are presently about 100 city employees, with 30 of those on the single family plan. The increase would cost single plan employees about $32 per pay period. As the plan sits for 2014 totals per month would be single plan - $513; single plus dependent - $904; employee and spouse - $1130; and family $1,369.

Commissioner Mike Thorstad said that the “city has been hammered by benefits and now this. We can’t just to the well and say we pay it.”

Commissioner Duane Hanson stated that he could support the $500 deductible and suggested single plan employees pay the 12 ½ percent, a recent move the West Fargo Park Board also adopted. “This would be a good start and a good time to start having additional conversation. Our benefit plan is quite good compared to anybody” adding it was time this issue was addressed for the sake of taxpayers, also making reference to the city’s generous employee retirement plan.

Commissioner Mark Simmons agreed saying he didn’t know of any employer “that gives everything we do.”

Hanson made the motion to go with the $500 deductible and the 12.5 percent plan increase.

The suggestion was also made and agreed upon to explore what other insurance options might be available and secure price quotes.

Brownlee said the approved increase would be funded by cut backs in other areas in individual city department budgets.

Brownlee said talks would also be initiated with Blue Cross to try and achieve a closer estimate so city officials have a more accurate figure before budget talks resume. He said he was hoping this could be achieve by reviewing histories of varying monthly segments, not just January to January.

Commissioner Duane Hanson stated that he could support the $500 deductible and suggested single

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place Monday, Dec. 2 at 5:30 p.m. in the Commission Chambers at West Fargo City Hall, 800 4th Ave. E. All meetings are open to the public.

In other action, the commission:

  • approved first reading of Ordinance No. 980 relating to garbage fee collections. The action was a housekeeping move to eliminate the $4 fee per month having to do with the homestead credit that had been adopted years ago. The eliminated clause means there are no exceptions to the $13 monthly residential rate;
  • approved a new version of the city’s façade improvement program that better clarifies areas dealing with what identifies the zone, landscaping, parking lots and criteria for receiving funding’
  • approved three façade grant applications from JSM Woodworks, 268 E. Main Ave., Dan’s Service Center, 413 Main Ave. and SK Realty, 219 W. Main Ave. JSM plans to plant trees and complete artificial brick landscaping that will increase the aesthetic qualities. Dan’s Service will be doing storefront improvements including washing and repainting the building in a neutral color, replacing exterior bay doors and adding awnings on the building. SK Realty’s project will consist of removal of rooftop cooling systems and replacing new ground level units, install new roof, gutters and steel siding; 
  • okayed a request for a (PILOT) Payment In Lieu of Taxes for Dakota Commons, for a 2-story, 30-unit senior housing project at 1557 10th Ave. E. There will be attached parking and a community room and elevator will also be included in the work. The request was made by James Twomey, managing member of Southhill Properties LLC who has completed five previous successful developments over the last ten years. An occupancy date is September of 2015;
  • favored Renaissance Zone applications for Michael Evenson, 334AB/C 11th St. W., and Teresa Pazdernik, 227 W. Main Ave. Evenson wants to construct a pre-engineered 80’x90’ metal building on an empty 49,925 square foot lot that will be divided into three shop units. Estimated occupancy is August 1, 2014. Pazdernak wants to completely remodel a 1,057 square foot building that has stood vacant for several years for a health shake and smoothie business. She plans to do the parking lot and façade next summer. Repairs are expected to begin yet late this year;
  • granted a resolution of necessity determining that sufficient protests were not filed following a public hearing for Street Improvement District No. 2231, Dakota Territory 5th, 11th and 13th Additions;
  • approved a conditional use permit for JSM Woodworks on a 73,110 square foot parcel on the north side of east Main Avenue and west of 3rd St. E. that is zoned heavy commercial/light industrial and was developed years ago with shop space. The applicant wanted to change an existing nonconforming use to accommodate the growth and expansion of their existing nonconforming use within the same building;
  • awarded the contract for Sewer, Water, Storm and Street Improvement District No. 1262-2, West Creek 1st Addition, to Sellin Brothers, Inc., Hawley, Minn. with their low bid of $424,525.75. The engineer’s estimate was $287,000.
  • awarded the contract for Water and Street Improvement District No. 1266, 33rd Avenue East and 6th Street East, to Northern Improvement Company, Fargo, with their low bid of $662,823.10. The engineer’s estimate was $685,000.
  • approved a resolution to begin work on a new city lagoon cell, so work can begin on the project. The city is waiting on the permit from the state water commission which shouldn’t be an issue. Discussion also focused on the work schedule of the contractor who requested 20-hour work days. The board opposed that suggestion felling it was not the right thing to do for residents in the area. They voted allow crews to work six days a week from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and not Sundays.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place Monday, Dec. 2 at 5:30 p.m. in the Commission Chambers at West Fargo City Hall, 800 4th Ave. E. All meetings are open to the public.